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With Internet Explorer 9 having lost the early download PR war to Firefox 4.0, Microsoft now claims the numbers are unimportant and that it's the "long game" that counts.

Senior director of IE business and marketing Ryan Gavin has blogged that IE9 will be "broadly rolled out" through Windows Update at the "end of June" – that'll be three months after IE9 became available for download.

"Every browser has a mechanism for updating their users from a previous version of a browser to the latest and greatest. For IE9, it is done through Windows Update," Gavin wrote.

Gavin was quick to point out that 24 hours after IE9's actual release there had been 2.3 million downloads of the browser. A week later, though, Firefox 4.0 hit 7.1 million downloads in the same amount of time.

The Reg provided some context to Gavin's data at the time, even before Firefox 4.0 appeared. While IE9 was doing better than IE8 and Apple's Safari 4.0 on Windows in 2009, it was lagging downloads of latest versions of Opera and also had failed to best Firefox 3.0's 2006 rollout.

Others are now assessing what IE9's downloads mean for market share. And just like with IE8, it has turned into the browser equivalent of WWI trench warfare, where a sub–one per cent gain is hailed as "growth" in the way commanders called the seizure of five feet of no man's land an "advance".

Back in the IE8 era, Microsoft was happy to engage in this death-by-decimal-point attrition.

With IE9 failing short, Microsoft is now saying that sub–percentage points are unimportant and that we should wait for the "big push" with Windows Update this summer.

Fair enough, Microsoft – but just stop changing your argument.

"Broad rollout" is of course a complete myth. IE9 is available for download now, on the internet – the broadest download mechanism available to anybody. Firefox and Opera know this to be a fact.

Windows Update, though, was always going to be Microsoft's best bet for sliding IE9 onto more Windows 7 machines, as people just click OK to update the existing software on their PCs. Also, the more time Microsoft gives to IE9, the better the uptake: IE9 doesn't run on Windows XP, so Microsoft needs more Windows 7 in the market to increase its presence.

The one-two punch of Windows Update and more Windows 7 is what Microsoft's IE team is relying on. According to numbers highlighted by Microsoft, Windows XP is still running more than half of PCs on the planet, and Windows 7 less than a quarter.

"In a few months we'll be better placed to look at the share of the latest browser versions and get a sense for relative progress and adoption," Gavin said, apparently trying to convince us as much as he's trying to convince Microsoft. ®

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